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Philosophy of the Self in the Walking Dead

Identify a film, book, television show, or other form of media/art that involves characters/narrators reflecting upon the nature of identity and the self.

Explain at least one theory of identity. For example, you might discuss rationalism, empiricism, or phenomenology. Cite support from the primary text selections in the chapter as well as authoritative secondary sources such as the course text and online lectures.

Analyze the film using at least one of the theories of identity or freedom from this week's readings and lectures.

You may want to consider the following questions while choosing a relevant theory and analyzing the media:
Do the characters doubt their own existence or their ability to know themselves and the world around them?
Do the characters/narrator reflect upon whether they exist and how they know what they know?
To what extent do the following factors impact their sense of self: emotions, past experiences, rationality, other people, race, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and religion?
Are they conscious of themselves as having a "self?"

Solution Preview

Do the characters doubt their own existence or their ability to know themselves and the world around them?
Do the characters/narrator reflect upon whether they exist and how they know what they know?
To what extent do the following factors impact their sense of self: emotions, past experiences, rationality, other people, race, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and religion?
Are they conscious of themselves as having a self?

I figured we could just do the Walking Dead because most people know it and there are tons of philosophical subtexts going on. I own all seasons on DVD that are available. The only problem is that I don't know the sources used in your text. That will be up to you.

The Walking Dead is an intensely philosophical series dealing with civilization and the state of nature. It takes place in Georgia for reasons that are not altogether clear. The main character, a sheriff's deputy wakes from a coma to discover that nothing in his former world is the same. Civilization has entirely broken down and what might be called a state of nature exists.

The cause of this breakdown is a vaguely described disease that infects all that have recently died. They return from their state with only the base passions remaining. They have no freedom, reason or any higher order psychological function. Normally, the term "zombie" is used, but the series goes out of its way to avoid the use of the term.

The self and its role in civilized life is the central element. Given the western obsession with the undead over the last several decades, it is likely a social phenomenon. Normally, those who believe their intellectual acumen to be higher than average call their less gifted neighbors "zombies." This might be an accurate term. The zombies in this series and in nearly all media related to it have almost everything in common:

1. They have no freedom. They live according to a single drive: to consume others. Human flesh in any quantity keeps them alive. In a pinch they will eat animal flesh, but it is fairly clear they prefer living humans.
2. They cannot learn. They exist at the Hobbesian baseline no matter what happens. They are incapable of civilization or anything above wandering and eating.
3. What makes them different from the people in Hobbes' state of nature is that they do not fight each other. They have no principles to fight over. The world is divided between the handful of those still alive and the massive hordes of the undead.
4. Shooting them in the head, or otherwise damaging the brain, alone can kill them.
5. They do not feel pain.
6. They seem to feel no emotion at all. Their faces usually suggest anger, but that remains unclear.
7. They are aggressive regardless of circumstances. They have no fear of death, or, more accurately, they have no fear of being killed again.
8. They always outnumber the living.
9. They can react to stimuli such as sounds or light.
10. They cannot reason or be reasoned with. Their behavior is identical regardless of their age or gender. Zombification is total leveling.
11. They are strong enough to overcome even concentrated, skilled defenses against them. This is not due to their intelligence, but solely due to their sheer mass. Military checkpoints featuring the latest weapons can hold them off for a time, but are always overrun.
12. Their passion is hunger for flesh. They apparently feel no other passion such as greed, lust or resentment.
13. They cannot communicate in any way, even among each other.
14. They do not work or produce anything of value.

Now, the zombie phenomenon is well known. It is safe to say that they represent the postmodern self in capitalism. These are the "mass" that Ortega y Gasset referred to in the Revolt of the Masses. They have no identity. They react to physical stimuli only. In fact, outside of their antisocial cannibalism, they are the perfect citizen: obedient, predictable and easy to manipulate.

The zombie is not the focus of the Walking Dead. The actual living remnant of humanity is. These are the stars, the focus of the ...

Solution Summary

The human survivors are living far more meaningful lives under this stress than they ever did before. Regardless of the mass death, the communities that form are more morally holistic and dedicated than they have ever been in suburban Atlanta. They have real virtues, not pretense: bravery is manifest clearly, as is generosity. There are no appearances, all is manifestly real because generally, virtue is rewarded with survival, and vice, with isolation and certain death.

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